This post is about the Third Inernational Conference on Arabic Language and Linguistics: Heritage and Innovation. It was held at the American University in Cairo, 14-17 Dec 2019

This is a round-up of the talks I attended and my personal highlights.

Day 1

The conference kicked off with a keynote speech by Kees Versteegh, author of The Arabic Language. The book is essential reading for anyone interested in Arabic sociolinguistics or teaching Arabic as a foreign language (TAFL). Although I have read the book, I hadn’t met the author previously, so seeing him speak was a real treat!

The title of his talk was ‘Fantastic Languages and How to Learn them’. Throughout the talk he gave an insight into his experience of learning Arabic, after learning many other foreign languages. He learned in the classic grammar translation method, translating many nonsensical sentences into perfectly grammatical Arabic or English! A pain I’m sure many of us can relate to. He then gave an interesting account of the importance of grammar. Without mastering it we end up with ‘pidgin’ Arabic. We see this nowadays with southeast Asian workers in the Gulf. The first time I’d heard of pidgin Arabic was at this workshop on teaching Arabic grammar. So the take home message for me is that there is a balance to be struck. We want to teaching the right amount of grammar – not too much and not too little.

The whole-part-whole method: Andrea Facchin

One of the most interesting talks I attended was about the whole-part-whole mehod. He applied neurolinguistics to TAFL. This shows how our brains process logical information and creative information on different sides of the brain. So we can use this flow of information to stimulate and use different parts of the brain to learn language.

Content courses: Amani Attia

I saw Amani present earlier this year at King’s College London. It was just as interesting if not more hearing about her rich content courses at Pittsburgh University in the US. Amani has successfully developed these courses which teach students about Arabic culture in English. It’s a great way to get them interested in learning Arabic. She tailors the courses around student interests, which she collected as responses to a survey. Evidence-based and successful – my kind of course!

Genre-based teaching: Emma Trentman

I became a true social media convert after I connected with many wonderful TAFL practitioners from across the globe. Among them was Emma Trentman and we met for the first time at this conference. She talked about her genre-based teaching, which was a new approach to me so I learned a lot! In this case Emma presented a series of genres based around planning a party. Students listened to a video in Lebanese dialect about appropriate dress for a party. Then they discussed and made other plans for a party.

Why Egyptian Arabic can’t become a language: Przemyslaw Turek

I often get asked whether I think Arabic dialects could be separate languages, and today I heard the answer. Take a look at the list below. Do you agree with the speaker?

That’s it for Day 1. Stay tuned for a summary of Day 2 of the conference here

And read ahead to Day 3 here